By Rochelle Maruch Miller
After graduating from Yeshiva University High School for Boys in 2010, Alex Goldberg of Riverdale, New York and Aharon Watson of Teaneck, New Jersey spent their post high school year studying in yeshivas in Israel. After witnessing United Hatzalah of Israel in action—and sensing a serious need—they coordinated a 5K run for the organization at Sacher Park in Jerusalem and raised over $250,000 for the cause. In 2012, they again hosted the race—dubbed “The Race to Save Lives”—and raised over $300,000.
This year, Alex and Aharon, assisted by other MTA alumni, relocated the race to New York’s Roosevelt Island. The event, which took place on June 9, raised over $1 million for United Hatzalah of Israel. The funds raised will be used to outfit United Hatzalah’s team of professionals with ambucycles, medically equipped motorcycles that arrive on the scene of an emergency in Israel in 90 seconds.
In this exclusive interview with the 5TJT, Alex describes what was involved in bringing this incredible chesed endeavor to its successful fruition.
RMM: How did you become involved with this incredible chesed project?
AG: I knew while studying in Kerem BeYavneh for the year that I wanted to do something besides enjoy learning. I wanted to do something meaningful for the country of Israel. So during Sukkot break, JJ Kuhl, a friend of mine, took me on a tour of United Hatzalah’s headquarters in Jerusalem. I fell in love with the volunteers’ passion (there are over 2,000 of them), the ability to bridge the gap between Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, and the return on the philanthropic investment (the cost per life saved). I told Eli Beer, founder of UH, that I would make an event for him. I then went to my best friend, Aharon Watson, who was also studying in Netiv Aryeh and with whom I had discussed the idea of doing something for Israel while we were there for the year. I told him all about my visit to United Hatzalah’s headquarters, and JJ, Aharon, and I have spearheaded the three races since 2011.
RMM: How has the event evolved since its inception?
AG: We started with a one-time event in Israel geared towards students studying for their year in Israel. Now we just finished our third event, which raised $1 million for UH in NYC. We are looking to expand the event next year to include an all women’s run and a race in South Africa.
RMM: How did you bring the Race to Save Lives to fruition?
AG: Each Race to Save Lives was brought to fruition with the help of extraordinary people; the first race included the efforts of Atara Tennebaum and Alex Silber as well as Aharon and me. Our responsibilities included recruitment and raising money. The following year Sarah Mandelbaum with the help of David Silber and Ethan Herenstein put together the second annual race which attracted more participants and more sponsorship.
Each year it takes months of preparation and a ton of recruiting for the event. Each person who has been involved takes hours out of his or her day for months to make sure the events are successful.
This year in addition to myself and Aharon, Deanna Meyer joined our efforts—the event’s success would not have been possible without her involvement. She was in charge of recruiting from the NYC area and managed Aharon and me throughout the entire process. It was nice for us to pass the baton to another young leader who is passionate about Israel and saving lives.
Outside of the actual student leaders, a constant supporter of our efforts has been the Silber family, who have been instrumental in helping us reach our annual event goal.
RMM: What have been the most challenging aspects that you have encountered?
AG: One may expect the answer to be raising money, but I have found once people are introduced to the organization they realize the return on their giving, in terms of lives saved. People usually feel as though the organization is their own. There is a reason why CNN, Harvard, the World Economic Forum, and Davos have given UH so many accolades. So fundraising has always been easy. But getting college kids to wake up early on a Sunday morning to run for a charity is difficult. In the future we plan to target a wider audience and perhaps start at a more reasonable hour.
RMM: Alex, what makes United Hatzalah unique as a first responder agency?
AG: There is a combination of four things that separate United Hatzalah from every other first responder agency in Israel (and the world).
The first is that UH’s service is completely free whereas other first responder services in Israel charge for their services.
The second is the proprietary GPS system that United Hatzalah uses which contacts the closest, most qualified EMT or paramedic to the scene of the emergency and dispatches those volunteers accordingly so that the average response time throughout the entire country is 2-3 minutes. Meaning that volunteers do not need to listen to their radios because they will only be notified of an emergency when they are needed to save a life. They are on call 24/7 and carry all of their equipment with them at all times because they never know when they will need to drop everything they are doing to respond to a call.
Third is the use of ambucycles, which are medically equipped motorcycles. These motorcycles carry everything an ambulance has except the stretcher/bed. In highly populated areas like Tel Aviv, in areas with narrow streets like Jerusalem, or in off road places like many parts of Israel, it saves a lot of time being able to maneuver on a motorcycle. Ambucycles respond within 90 seconds since they are able to avoid traffic and are coming from close proximity to the emergency. Due to ambucycles and volunteer geographic dispersion, United Hatzalah has cut down first response times in Israel from 10 minutes (20 in rural areas) to 2–3 minutes throughout the entire country. Their goal is to respond within 90 seconds no matter by foot, by car, or by ambucycle.
Fourth is the kiddush Hashem that United Hatzalah makes throughout the world. We save people faster than any other first responder service in the world for free, and subsequently have attracted the attention of countries such as Panama, India, Brazil, Lithuania, Haiti, and many others who want to adopt and deploy the United Hatzalah model and technology. It is already operating in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Panama City, Panama.
In combination with other organizational attributes, these four factors have garnered respect for UH from an international crowd. United Hatzalah has received awards on the international stage, from the WEF to Harvard to the Queen of Jordan and President Shimon Peres.
RMM: What reaction has the Race to Save Lives elicited?
AG: People are excited! A lot of college students have now learned about the organization and want to get involved. They all could have a tremendous impact on the organization and on Israel. I could not have asked for a better reaction.
RMM: How will the funds raised be used to benefit United Hatzalah?
AG: Funds raised from the RTSL 2013 are going towards the purchase of ambucycles. There are approximately 250 in the country right now and at least 500 are needed throughout Israel. Each ambucycle box contains a complete trauma kit, specialized oxygen canister, blood sugar monitor, and a defibrillator. Each ambucycle responds to approximately 40 calls per month, roughly 480 calls a year. About 25% of all calls (120 annually) are deemed critical lifesaving situations. Each ambucycle is on the road responding to emergencies for at least three years and therefore responds to around 1,440 calls, and will save 360 lives.
RMM: Which individuals have been key to the success of this endeavor and in what capacity have they played an integral role?
AG: First and foremost, this was a team effort, and it would be too difficult to recount every single individual who contributed their time and effort to the run. Those of us who were responsible for organizing the participation of all individuals who helped out include Deanna, Aharon, and me. But I would be remiss if I did not recognize the following individuals:
Deanna Meyer was in charge of recruiting and she did a fantastic job. Nothing could have happened without her. Lauren Winter designed everything, from the T-shirts to the banners. The Rosen and Hirt families donated an ambucycle each. Bert Cohen and Mark Gerson are board members who matched all the funds raised along with another anonymous donor. Bert and Mark are two of the founders of the organization and Mark is currently the Chairman. Felicia Saltzbart is the executive director who coordinates the race from United Hatzalah’s end and made the event possible.
RMM: Alex, how can our readers show their support?
AG: E-mail us and get involved in next year’s race which we have already begun discussing. Visit UH’s Facebook page or website at www.israelrescue.org and pop into United Hatzalah’s headquarters in Jerusalem and see the operations for yourself. I bet it will turn into your charity of choice, too!
RMM: What message would you like to convey to our readers?
AG: If I had to convey one thing it would be to encourage others to try saving someone’s life. Just donate enough to save one person and ask to find out how that person was saved. See how it feels. That feeling transcends material-induced happiness. v